Does your Family Lawyer Understand You?

After working in Family Law for over 20 years I have come across many different types of relationships. My biggest challenge is to make sure I understand what has taken place and not to place “labels” on things.

Many years ago I had a client who had just separated. The children were living in the house and my client lived there each alternate week.  Her husband lived there with the children on the other week. They had not agreed about where the children would live long term.

She rang me one day to say that they had both been in the house and had an argument. It got pretty heated and they were yelling at each other. She tried to get past him and knocked her hip against a bench.

From what she had told me they were both very high functioning professional people, and there was no history of violence or abuse. It was a bad argument at the end of the relationship. What should she do, she asked me.

This is a real “Sliding Doors” moment.

From her discussions with me and from her answers to my direct questions, I was pretty sure that there was no violent history, that she was not frightened of him or for her safety and that she was quite confident it was an isolated accident and would not occur again.

She had the option to try and apply for a Violence Restraining Order (soon to be a Family Violence Restraining Order) and she could present her evidence to convince a Magistrate that she was concerned for her safety. She may be successful in obtaining an Interim VRO. If she was, her husband would be excluded from the house, the children would be living with her and we could then progress to a property settlement. However her husband would probably feel that she had been manipulative and untruthful and he would be very angry that she had obtained a VRO. This could destroy their relationship irrepairably, making it difficult to liaise in relation to the children.

Or she could just continue on as usual.

She chose the latter, which in the circumstances was the right choice. They finalised their property settlement, shared the care of their children and eventually went to their daughter’s wedding together (with their new spouses).

On the other side of the coin are the clients who present to their Family Lawyer details of a relationship that is marred by control, bullying, abuse, name calling, threats, violence and fear. I have seen both men and women who have suffered at the hands of their spouse. Certainly in the early stages I am very careful to just get the information and not scream out – “But that’s domestic violence”.

Clients, particularly those that have just separated, are still feeling mixed emotions about their decision, and the last thing they need is someone giving them a label and not understanding their story. I like to give them information to consider, but avoid labelling or pigeonholing them.

If you have recently separated and you have arranged to see a lawyer, make sure you let them know all the information and also your true feelings about the situation. Your lawyer is working for you, but can only give you the best advice if they understand you, your history and your desired outcomes. Anything less and something important will be missed.

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